By Carolyn Long
Here are some resources you will find useful to research your house or your neighborhood if you live in Washington, DC.
The most detailed information on building permits comes from Brian Kraft’s 2009 “Building Permits Database,” but it is not available online and is somewhat difficult to use.
An easier method is HistoryQuest DC, an interactive map created by the Historic Preservation Office https://dcgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=2ab24bc3b6da4314b9f2c74b69190333.
- Type in your address in the upper right corner. The map will zoom to the neighborhood with a dot on your house.
- Click on the house and a text will come down telling the year built (not the exact date), original property owner, architect, and the construction materials. Most interestingly, it tells the number of houses built under that permit and the cost for that group, so you can do the math learn how much your individual house cost to build.
If you’re looking for land records earlier than 1921, you will have to visit the DC Archives at 1300 Naylor Court, NW, which is a real challenge. Naylor Court is a U-shaped alley in the block bounded by 9th, 10th, N and O Streets, NW, just two blocks north of the Convention Center. There is a paid parking lot across from the Archives. Or take the Green Line to the Convention Center Metro and walk about four blocks. The research hours are limited to Tuesday and Thursday, 9 am – 12 pm.
For 19th century records you need to search for the names of the parties you want in the big Index Books and write down the citation for liber (volume) and page (folio). For early 20th century records you can use the index cards in the card drawers, again, write down the citation. You can give your list to Danny Brown, the assistant there, or you can send to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For land records after 1921 you can do everything online through the Office of Tax and Revenue/Recorder of Deeds website, https://countyfusion4.kofiletech.us/countyweb/login.do?countyname=WashingtonDC.
Even if you’re researching a house built in 1919-1920, you can find later property transfers and learn the names of all the owners of your house except the very first.
- Create an account with a user name and password. When you log in again it will automatically come up.
- Click accept service disclaimer.
- Select search public records.
- Select search by lot and square, type in information.
- Type in dates to search—must be mm/dd/yyyy. Nothing earlier than 1921 will come up but you can still get later information on your house.
- If you only want the deed, unclick “all document types” and select deed. If you want the mortgage, click that. “All document types” will give you every transaction made by owners of your house.
- Click search in upper right.
- Click on document number; it will come up. You can read it on the screen, but if you want to print it you will be charged $4.50 on your credit card. Or you can click “save” to download as a PDF.
- Click “back to results” to get back to the chain of ownership, or “back to criteria” to do another search.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT A PROPERTY
- Go to PropertyQuest https://propertyquest.dc.gov/#.
- Type in the address on the left.
- A map will come up with a dot on the house. On the left will be a window giving the names of the present owners, the current assessed value of the land and improvements, the most recent sale date and price, and a 2004 photograph of the house.
1930 and 1940 CENSUS
These are available by subscription on Ancestry.com. Go to https://www.ancestry.com/search/categories/35/.
- Click on US Federal Census Collection. A list of all censuses will come up. Choose 1930 or 1940. 1940 is marked “free” so maybe you can access it without a subscription. You can search by a name or an address.
- Enter “Washington, District of Columbia” in the “lived in” box.
- If you’re searching for a name, enter as much information as possible. If searching for an address, type it in the “keyword” box—this doesn’t always work.
- You can also view the census on microfilm at the National Archives.
- 1940 is the latest census available to the public.
City directories have an “Alphabetical List of Names,” listing street address and occupation for individual residents. There is also the “Street and Avenue Guide,” popularly called the “criss-cross” pages, which gives street and avenue names arranged in alphabetical order; residences and businesses (with names) are arranged numerically under each street or avenue. You will be able to see who lived at each address for a given year. You can then search for that name to learn the person’s occupation.
City directories are available on Ancestry.com. I have only been able to search by name; I have not been able to access the criss-cross pages.
- Go to https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/2469/.
- Choose District of Columbia and Washington from the dropdown menu, type in the “lived in” box and mark it “exact.”
- Choose years from the dropdown menu. If you get “zero good matches” try a different year.
The “Criss-Cross Directory” is easier to access on microfilm at one of the libraries. DC published directories for 1920-1941. After 1941, DC only published directories for 1948, 1956, 1960, and 1973.
The DC Public Library Washingtoniana Division has directories on microfilm. https://www.dclibrary.org/washingtoniana#directories. While the main Martin Luther King Library is closed for renovation, you can use the convenient Interim Library at 4340 Connecticut Avenue, Van Ness Metro station.
DC city directories are also at the Library of Congress, Jefferson Building, Microform Reading Room, https://matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/public-washington-dc-history-resources-library-of-congress-dc-city-directories-microfilm/.
There are two very valuable online sites by which one can search newspapers, GenealogyBank https://www.genealogybank.com/explore/newspapers/all, and Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/. Both require a subscription, but you can access Newspapers.com if you have an Ancestry.com subscription. You can search by a name, an address, or other keyword. GenealogyBank has the Washington Evening Star, but it does not have the Post. You can access the Post through ProQuest using your DC Public Library ID. It is not as easy to use and search as GenealogyBank and Newspapers.com.
- Go to https://www.dclibrary.org/wapo, click visit.
- Log in with your DCPL card number.
- Highlight Historical Newspapers and type in your search term—turn off auto complete.
- Click modify search and choose oldest first. Choose custom date range.
- You can save or print the article. Click back arrow to return to list.